August 2020: On Hard Work

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In July, I took on quite a bit of work that kicked off either as its final days wound down or in August, meaning this month proved to be one of long hours. Which, to be clear, is not one of those faux-inspirational Instagram messages you see from people pretending to motivate while actually bragging about the entrepreneurial grind. It is not a personal goal of mine to work as much as possible; indeed, counter to popular belief, this is often (not always) a sign of massive inefficiencies in one’s business. Grinding often leaves you blind to opportunities that will not only benefit you, but your clients (or fans, if we’re talking about books), too. There’s nothing wrong with working hard, but working hard at the expense of missing opportunities is fairly short-sighted.

There are plenty of leverage points we could discuss that produce greater dividends than working hard alone, but I only want to focus on the two I reflected on most as August progressed: compounding and pricing.

Compounding

One of the core things that I wrangled with throughout August was whether to continue doing launch ads management for authors (and, if so, what proportion of my business that should be). This service involves running ads and designing a strategy for the launch. It’s extremely time-intensive and somewhat stressful, in that the launch is fragile and any number of things outside my direct control, from Facebook shutting off ads, to Amazon glitches, can scuttle a book’s chances of success.

What’s interesting is that months prior, I’d crunched some numbers and made the decision to stop doing one-off promos or launches by the end of the year. The numbers broke such that I could stop doing them much sooner. And August was a grind from a time perspective. It was genuinely tiring by the end, which is fine; I’m not burnt out, or anywhere close to it. But it became very apparent that this was not the way I wanted to structure my business or life for the long-term.

Despite that, upon the moment arriving to make the leap, my resolve still faltered.

I’m fortunate enough to work with a handful of great long-term clients. And people regularly reach out to me to handle their ads. But the problem with business is that you remember the times when you had no clients knocking on your door. The fee for launch management is high enough that it’s hard to turn down these opportunities. The other issue, and one in the back of my mind, is being too quick to leave behind solid revenue streams. You can believe that your business is about to leap to the next level, only to be sorely mistaken. It is almost cliche, but it is absolutely true: when you don’t need additional work, clients are plentiful and you have more requests than you can handle. When you desperately need business…no one is to be found.

However, the simple fact, emotions aside, is that the launch has extremely limited upside (relative to long-term management) and demands a massive amount of work. In business, you want to invest in areas that compound: things where you get paid multiple times for the same work. Long-term clients fit this bill, in that any ads you put up result in audiences, creatives, and so forth that you can leverage for months and years. Any work done for a launch is essentially a one-off, wherein you must build from scratch, only to begin again anew with the next author.

There’s nothing wrong with this; that’s the service offered, after all. But when you’re in business, it’s sometimes hard to remember that you decide whether a service makes sense for your goals, and thus whether to offer it or not. Most of the money in business is in long-term relationships. Trust compounds over time. Working with the same person builds efficiencies in communication. It allows you to systematize many aspects of a launch, promo, or ads strategy, because you specifically know what works for those books. The impact of this compounding is massively underestimated, because so few people work with contractors or freelancers for longer than a one-off. So it’s rare that either party gets to experience compound interest’s profound impact.

The money (for both client and service provider) is in finding people with whom you can work with long-term. Because as I get more knowledge about an author’s business and catalog, I can work on little nuances and tweaks that are simply impossible to find without the benefit of time. This gets to the heart of what I really care about, far more than whatever monetary rewards lie at the end of the consulting rainbow: generating results. With a launch, no matter your level of expertise, your control over the outcome is limited. You’re constrained by outside factors. If you manage many launches, promos, and ads for someone over time, however, the odds are much more in your favor.

This applies to the books, too, of course: if you can find fans who love your work, and stick with you release-to-release, those are generally more valuable (given time) than any one book that’s a massive hit and then fades. This, too, benefits both parties, of course; a fan remains as such because they can rely on you to deliver a consistently enjoyable reading experience.

Pricing

Compounding obviously produces massive value, which makes long-term client work far more appealing than one-offs. But my pricing structure for each offering differs dramatically, too, further shifting things in favor of long-term work. The work I do for long-term and short-term clients is essentially identical. But the amount I get paid dramatically differs in potential upside. This comes down to pricing: with the launches, generally it’s a flat fee. And with the long-term management, it tends to be a lower flat fee, plus part of the profit above a certain threshold.

That means, if I help grow someone’s business, we both win. That, when combined with the compounding effects of working together long-term, has massively more upside for both parties.

Again, this is applicable to books. And pricing is a much bigger leverage point than most authors realize because the books have scale. That means you write the book once, but can sell it 1,000 or a million times. And a $1 price difference on a $2.99 book (from $2.99 to $3.99) is actually $0.70 (because you get 70%) x 1000 = $700. That might seem like nothing…but over 20 backlist titles, that’s $700 x 20 = $14,000. And that’s just assuming a $1 price bump, 20 backlist titles, and selling 1,000 of each annually.

If some of those numbers are bigger, you can quickly see just how big a leverage point $1 or $2 truly is.

In Conclusion

You’ll note that these are purely structural changes; leveraging the power of compounding and tweaking your pricing demand no additional work on your end. Seeking longer-term clients is a specific strategic decision, as is pricing in a fashion that’s win-win for both parties. You may be thinking that hard work can beat compound interest or pricing; it cannot. These two strategies have far more leverage and 10x – 100x the upside at no additional time cost. Often, the time cost decreases (for both client and service provider) as you work with someone longer, because everything becomes more efficient. Which makes this a win on all three counts: the client gets better results and makes more, I make more, and we both save time as the months and years roll on.

Now here’s the coda to this month’s recap: the numbers are clear. Nonetheless, it’s been hard to stop doing the launches. That’s not a complaint; it’s a good problem to have. I’m grateful to have this business, but as you grow, it means certain service offerings are no longer opportunities but anvils keeping you tethered to a plateau. This is a difficult mindset shift, compounded by the aforementioned concern: you don’t want to cut the rope, start climbing up the mountain, and realize you mistakenly cut the safety line tying you to the cliff.

In the context of the books, this might be a certain series that has trailed off. Or writing in a sub-genre that has dwindled in popularity.

Once profitable areas that are now holding us back are rarely hidden from our view. But most of business is mental. You must find ways to nudge yourself in the right direction once the numbers have spoken. Which is what the true purpose of this recap is, then: a 1400 word note to myself. A reminder that, after existing obligations are wrapped up, that, even if things dip a little in the short term, long-term clients should be the core of my consulting business going forward.

And of course, to get the books done. Because those have the highest long-term leverage of all. But that’s a story for another month (hopefully September).

AUGUST KPIs

  • TOTAL WORDS: 2000 fiction words
  • URBAN FANTASY ORGANIC SUBSCRIBERS:  2,009 > 2,024 (+15) (+308 on year)
  • NON-FICTION ORGANIC SUBSCRIBERS: 2,136 > 2,177 (+41) (+807 on year)
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